It’s interesting that in the country of Singapore, Christmas is a big deal. Christmas shopping accounts for half of the country’s annual retail sales. Shopping malls turn into extravagant theme parks while traditional hymns play over the loud speakers everywhere. What’s surprising about this, however, is that while most of the people there enthusiastically embrace the holiday, only about 13 percent of the population are Christians. Most of the citizens love the holiday without embracing all of its religious themes.
Now some Christians might be bothered by this, but I’m not one of them. I don’t have a problem with non-Christians embracing the holiday, just as I don’t have a problem with non-Christians not embracing the holiday. And by the same token, I don’t have a problem with Christians who celebrate Christmas, and Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas. And yes, there are Christians who refuse to celebrate Christmas.
There is actually a long tradition of Christian opposition to the Christmas season. Most of us are just starting to burn off some of the calories we consumed over Thanksgiving, a holiday whose origin we trace back to the pilgrims; but pilgrims refused to celebrate Christmas and Easter! According the history site, Mayflowerhistory.com:
They believed that these holidays were invented by man to memorialize Jesus, and are not prescribed by the Bible or celebrated by the early Christian churches, and therefore cannot be considered Holy days. "It seems too much for any mortal man to appoint, or make an anniversary memorial [for Christ]," taught the Pilgrims' pastor John Robinson. (http://mayflowerhistory.com/religion/)
The Puritans, for years, tried to outlaw the holiday, and even today Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, some Church of Christ folk, and some Baptists, refuse to celebrate Christmas for many reasons including its alleged (and likely) pagan roots. And as many scholars point out, nobody has the faintest idea when Christ was really born since the Bible and early Christians never mentioned a date or time of year.
But I don’t believe any of this matters. I hold to the Apostle Paul’s view regarding this issue. In Paul’s day there were Jewish Christians who had a whole slew of holidays the Gentile Christians were ignoring (like Hanukah), and the Gentile Christians observed some days the Jewish Christians ignored. Each side thought the other was wrong. So Paul settled their argument with these strong words:
Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand. Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God. We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. (Romans 14:4-8 NRSV)
In other words, stop picking on one another just because you don’t observe the same holidays in the same ways, and do what you do for the glory of the Lord.
I love Christmas, and I’m going to celebrate the turkey stuffing out of it! You do what you think right. But from my perspective, celebrating the birthday of the Prince of Peace is the perfect opportunity for me to embrace those around me with kindness and respect. Even, or especially, those who see things differently.
So whatever your traditions, however you celebrate, I wish you a holiday full of blessings and grace. And in that vein I’m going to offer you a greeting that has, in some circles, become controversial.